The world is heaving under the weight of our hurt, brutal hurricanes have devastated Puerto Rico and left Florida and Houston on their knees. As we watch the news, or experience its painful silence, it can be hard to stay connected to so much pain in an embodied, true way. For sensitive types, it can be tempting to disengage entirely. Our stomach is in knots, our heads are throbbing, our toes are clenched—we can’t handle the suffering. For engaged types, it can be hard to care for our spirits while we stay tuned in. Our eyes are glued to the images of disasters, our hearts are racing, our mind is spinning—we can’t donate or share stories fast enough. In the midst of both is the reality of trauma that so many of our brothers and sisters face. What do they need? What can we do? How can healing ever come, to mama earth, to our human family, and to every creature in between?
I am with you here.
It is a hard place to be.
What I have to offer is a ritual for your grief and for mine. This is a quiet, brave way to stay present with suffering when we might be tempted to turn it off. This is a calming, soothing way to comfort your spirit when we might be tempted to go-go-go without any rest. It is a pause, not to stop the story, but to sit inside it, as a character who deeply feels and, from there, deeply gives.
1. Create a Physical Space of Comfort
Creating heart space is an internal shift, but external realities enable us to bring it into being. If you have a small space in your home for a kind of alter, place candles, incence, flowers, or a few special, comforting objects, like photos of loved ones or stones that feel comforting to touch. You can also pull a favorite blanket and a few beautiful pillows over to a section of your couch, or into a cradling, cozy chair. Even curling up on your bed will work wonderfully. The point is to pull together the elements that let the animal of your body settle. Part of the process of grieving and giving is experiencing in your core that you are lucky enough to be physically safe, right now. It is so natural that seeing images of terror and harm makes our brain race for safety, experiencing the trauma in our fight or flight instincts. Instead of letting that remove you from the reality of what’s going on—flying away—get cozy in your space, whether curled up in your chair or calmly sitting near your alter. You are safe. Squeeze your arms and remind yourself.
2. Light some sage
This is a practice that can help you feel like you are burning away fear. Breathe in deeply and smell the unfurling smoke of your sage—a smudge stick—and imagine any fear or apathy or overwhelm melting off of your back like water and going back to the Earth. She can hold that for you, let gravity take it off your shoulders, and off your mind. Instead, let what is left be the compassion without fear, the attention without overwhelm, and the drive to act without apathy or burn out. You are burning away the pieces of your care that are trying to protect you, but that aren’t actually needed here.
3. Let yourself rant, rage, and weep
Take a deep breath and tune in to a form of prayer that feels aligned with your heart. Maybe you are talking to God like he or she is your best friend, maybe you are directing your thoughts at a universe who feels random or unfair, maybe you are simply speaking to the planet. Whatever you choose, start to speak freely, either outloud or in your mind. Let every rage and rant about what you see come out. Why are people suffering this way? What is going on? Describe what has haunted and hurt you, let your grief and anger, your worry and your sorrow, take up all the air around you. If you get worked up into a frenzy, that’s ok. If you dissolve into a puddle, that’s ok. If you feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of how much you care, that’s ok. The work is heavy and all of your effort and emotion is needed in our tribe to hold it up.
4. Visualize a community of healing
Now, imagine that you are sitting around a fire, watching it glow and spark. You are safe and warm, and everyone around the fire with you is safe and warm. At first you look up and see your family, parents, children, siblings, perhaps your partner, your close friends. You feel so comforted that they are there, and that you can see that they are smiling in the glow of the fire. But then your eyes continue to roam around the circle, and you see that there are people around the fire who you don’t know. Older people, with storied wrinkles and tired feet, young children, curiously watching the flames, entire groups of people who you have never met in your lifetime. All of them are gathered around this fire, and all of them are safe. Try to imagine that feeling, and then take a snapshot of it with your heart.
5. Make a dedication
If you have a stone or candle that has been part of your experience so far, take it in your hands. If not, let your eyes rest on an object in your home around you that feels comforting. Take in the feeling of what you are holding, experiencing, or seeing. What does it look like? What does it make you think of? Then imagine taking all the feelings that you have had coursing through you in the last ten minutes and pouring them into that object, from the fear you burned off to the rage and sadness you let out, to the comforting glow of every being’s safety around the fire. Now this little stone, or this candle, or whatever you have chosen, is helping you to hold those feelings. Then, either outloud or in your mind, dedicate yourself to helping in whatever way you can, by saying, “I am here to serve and give, to listen and share, and to comfort.” If it feels good to you, you can speak it to your object, or you can simply say it outloud.
And with this ritual, the work of your service can continue, or it can begin, in the fullness of all that you have felt, and all that your body has done to try to protect you from disaster. You are bringing all of that with you as you serve the world, whether through donations or other action.